Anglican Catholicism, a twitch upon the thread

I have been looking at a fascinating thread on the Anglican Ordinariate Forum on Facebook. Some of those people reflect well, among those of a more fearful disposition. I will try to give a general gist of some of these ideas.

Before going any further, I should carefully qualify the use of the term Anglican Catholicism. The institutional Church I belong to as a priest is the Anglican Catholic Church, a legally protected title which may not be usurped by someone who does not belong to our Church. However, the term Anglican Catholicism is also generic and is often used by Ordinariate people in this broad meaning.

The discussion was initially about whether Ordinariate people should continue to use the term Anglican Ordinariate. The notion of Anglican can either be an adjective to describe a particular kind of Catholicism (whether or not in formal canonical communion with the Pope) or the Reformation reaction from Rome with the idea of founding a more evangelical community of Christians. There will never be one answer to this question because of all the different churchmanships in existence.

I will not go into questions of internal policy of the American, British or Australian ordinariates. That is none of my business and they do what they know to be best for them. However, some of the comments go into the famous Anglican patrimony or questions of identity. To some extent, some of these questions can be felt in the Continuing Anglican world. The circle the Ordinariate folk have to square is being full members of the Roman Catholic Church whilst retaining aspects of Anglican identity that do not conflict with the RC Church’s dogmatic teaching. Eastern Rite uniates have the same issue, except that their position has been defined for a much longer time.

The big problem is defining Anglicanism as a version of Protestantism or the result of a Catholic revival (under the influence of Romanticism) within the English and former Imperial establishment of what remained of the Pre-Reformation Church.

To quote from my own recent book A Twitch on the Sarum Thread,

What I find so tragic is that never were the Anglicans and Roman Catholics so close spiritually and culturally than in that period shortly predating the paroxysm of Roman triumphalism and the authoritarianism of Pius IX. The Anglicans sought their medieval roots, and the Roman Catholics sought their Recusant heritage, both from exactly the same source.

It is quite a fanciful idea because at the time, in the mid nineteenth century, as a correspondent wrote:

I would say at the time the Anglican Church was insufficiently Catholic and the Catholic Church was insufficiently English.

I think that much of the circle-squaring difficulty is exactly there. We English need to be less insular, and the Roman Catholic Church needs to cater more for local identity as it tries to do outside Europe. Europe’s identity is not uniform, and has never been. It is a question both of culture and belief.

In the FB thread, a criticism comes up of Anglo-Catholics (going to Rome) wanting to go back to Sarum and the Pre-Reformation Church and ignore the old High Church heritage. Frankly, I do not see an opposition there. I prefer a Romantic Middle Age than the idea of jumping into a time machine and setting the controls to somewhere in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, because we might not like it on getting there. Help! I have an infected cut and need antibiotics!!! I believe the Tractarians were interested in both the Romantic dream and the work of their predecessors in the post-Reformation times. This is how I see the Catholic revival, which does not exclude the theological and spiritual monuments of the Caroline Divines, the Non-Jurors, the old High Church Anglicans, etc.

That being said, many experiments have been tried with the liturgy, notably mixing elements of the Prayer Book and the post-Tridentine Roman rite to make the English Missal and the Anglican Missal. To what extent are these hybrid liturgical forms truly a part of Anglican patrimony, rather than reviving the best documented pre-Reformation rite – Sarum? I have my opinion, but that is not strong enough to represent a definitive answer to this question. Also, local Catholic patrimony is not about the exact words used in the liturgy or the trappings like church architecture and vestments – but the whole in a universal diversity.

To some of the Ordinariate people who have idealised or romanticised the Church they joined, they desired some “insurance policy” against the realities of ordinary parish life and the general kind of modern liturgy they would find in most street corner churches. The reality must have seemed a little less forbidding in the Benedict XVI era. It is always the convert’s dilemma, embracing the ideal whilst living with the post-Vatican II reality. Unenviable, unresolvable and something I lived through for too long. But, I can only speak for myself and those who have had similar experience.

One person made an extremely interesting point about particular identity as opposed to “bait-and-switch assimilation” by those in the Roman Catholic Church wanting absolute uniformity. Even more than Roman Catholicism in England, American Roman Catholicism has always been a “melting pot” and a system of conformity. “Romanitá can so easily be the elephant that swallows the Anglican Ordinariate flea, and does so without even intending to“. It was essentially the issue that caused the scission of the Polish National Catholic Church in the 1900’s. Ironically, the hegemony did not represent the feeling or look of native Italian Catholicism. Back in 2010-12, some of us looked at the small print and did not buy the sales patter, especially when our own archbishop was not being very truthful about the details.

Another comment distinguishes ethnicity – ἔθνος and ethos – ἦθος. Though Christianity is meant to be universal and above local differences, ethnicity and religious identity are inseparable for many. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, this tendency when carried to extremes is called phyletism. As a native Englishman, I have been accustomed to the deep cultural differences between the North and the South, and experienced them very vividly in my youth. I am a northerner, but was attracted to the cosmopolitanism of the south rather than what I perceived as the narrow parochialism of the northerners, especially the older generations. I ended up out of the country and in another country whose culture is so close yet so far from my origins. Now, my origins are a part of my eschatological Sehnsucht.

Why remain an Anglican? With my experience, it is not so much remaining an Anglican but embracing an older form of Catholicism transcending both the Reformation and the Counter Reformation. I am a cradle Anglican and only spent about fifteen years of my life as a Roman Catholic. During that time, I was preoccupied with local traditions and “natural” folk Catholicism, Christianity dans son jus. Most of the medieval churches around where I live reflect the Norman uses as much as their English counterparts witness to Sarum, York and other local liturgical traditions. The choirs are long, adorned by choir stalls and stools for the coped Rulers. Where the rood screen disappeared, it was replaced by the Poutre de Gloire. The same kind of church layout extends to Brittany and Burgundy, even further. These churches are Roman Catholic, but first and foremost are the churches of their localities. Before the 1850’s, they represented diversity and pride in what was their own, the spirit of the community. After then, Ultramontanism crept in with post-Tridentine uniformity and rigid rubricism. However, the memory was more recent than the equivalent in England – the 1550’s when recusants were persecuted and martyred.

I don’t know what would be a better term. I am Anglican because I belong to an Anglican Church, under the jurisdiction of its bishop in England. I come from Anglicanism and identify with the native northern European culture rather than the Papalism of the nineteenth century that sought to crush Gallicanism and the various theological and philosophical tendencies grouped together in the category of Liberalism. We should be united in our diversity. There are Old Catholics and other communities with similar names that were founded on similar ideas like opposition to an exaggeration of Papal authority and a desire to represent the local Church as upheld at the Council of Constance in 1414-1418. Names are both generic and proprietary, simply conventions to enable human minds to make distinctions. In reality, we are already one Church, because the universal Church, like a Platonic Universal Idea, cannot be divided. The Blessed Sacrament can be broken up into any number of pieces, but Christ is indivisible. As we sing in the Lauda Sion on the Feast of Corpus Christi:

Fracto demum Sacramento,
Ne vacilles, sed memento,
Tantum esse sub fragmento,
Quantum toto tegitur.

Perhaps I should be the first Bishop of the Romantic Medieval Church! No, I am joking because such a denomination would be absurd. Some of our vagantes friends might add more adjectives! No, we have to stay in the Church or in any institutional community in which the Catholic Church subsists. I had quite enough of absurdities and pseudo-clericalism. I have never been happier than as a simple priest under the spiritual fatherhood of a good and pastoral Bishop. This is also a part of our patrimony that is shared with Catholicism everywhere in which nobility of spirit and generosity prevail.

I have no definitive answer for the use of words and labels, for the über-rational spirit of some Americans (and English too). We have not to forget to reason with our imagination and our profound feelings and intuition. Let us stand on that breakwater at Viana do Castelo facing the great ocean *, and contemplate the black storm with its angry wind and waves. From that darkness comes light and truth…

* * *

* I allude to a moment during a family holiday in Portugal when I was 12.

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